Clinton pushes airport safety Anti-terrorism plan broadens screening of luggage, passengers

$1.1 billion needed

President challenges Congress to act, but quick action unlikely

September 10, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton challenged Congress yesterday to find $1.1 billion a year to finance a catch-all collection of anti-terrorism measures, including new airline security equipment and procedures to use computerized records to single out some passengers for extra scrutiny.

The proposal also calls for stepped-up protection at federal offices, museums and monuments around the nation and the world, as well as increased staffing for the FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration and federal prosecutors and courts.

"We know we can't make the world risk-free, but we can reduce the risks we face, and we have to take the fight to the terrorists," Clinton said in an Oval Office ceremony where he accepted the recommendations of an airline safety commission headed by Vice President Al Gore. "If we have the will, we can find the way."

With the November elections and congressional recess looming, prospects for any immediate progress on the legislation are dubious at best. While promising to work with Clinton, some Republicans said the action was unnecessary because Congress passed a $1 billion anti-terrorism bill in April.

In the past, airport security has been handled largely by airlines and airports. Administration officials said that over time the airline industry would also be expected to bear much of the new costs, running to billions of dollars. But they said they could not estimate how much of the cost would be borne by the carriers or how the industry would finance it.

Aiming to reassure a public shaken by incidents from the Oklahoma City bombing to the explosion of TWA Flight 800 -- and the security loopholes revealed after that crash -- Clinton proposed not only new airline safety measures but also a broader ranger of anti-terrorism provisions. They include a study of placing chemical markers in explosives to make them easier to trace, a step the Republican-controlled Congress has rejected.

Officials said the initial $1 billion cost would be negotiated as part of the regular budget process in coming months and was not expected to require new revenue.

The first part of Clinton's proposal, with a cost of about $430 million, involves new air safety measures, some of them under consideration for years and others newly recommended by Gore after the explosion of Flight 800.

These include ordering criminal background checks for airport workers with access to secure areas; starting a test program to match luggage with passengers on all domestic flights (as is already done on international flights); making the National Transportation Safety Board responsible for dealing with the families of air crash victims; and creating a computer tracking system to flag, or "profile," passengers and identify those with suspicious travel patterns or criminal histories.

The names, addresses, phone numbers, travel histories and billing records of passengers would be run through a database that might lead to a search of the luggage of those deemed suspicious. That concept has raised the hackles of civil liberties groups concerned about privacy violations. Gore has ordered the creation of an advisory group of civil liberties experts to consult on the development of the "profiling" system to ensure that it does not violate privacy rights.

Kenneth Quinn, who was general counsel of the Federal Aviation administration under President George Bush, warned that the proposals might be premature.

"This whole rapid-response concept has gotten out of hand," Quinn said. "These are all very expensive, intrusive solutions in search of a problem. We still have not determined a probable cause on TWA 800, and the normal domestic threat assessment has been quite low. You're talking about major expenditures and disruptions without knowing for certain what brought down this aircraft."

Quinn said airlines had customarily tried to respect passenger privacy to the greatest degree possible, and added, "This represents a whole new reach into the privacy interests of aviation passengers.

But Ivan Michael Schaeffer, president of the Woodside Travel Trust in Bethesda, an alliance of travel agencies in 4,000 locations in 65 countries, said: "I think some travelers may be offended. However, it's prudent. We need to make the sky safe, and if the cost of making the sky safe is an intrusion of very low ZTC magnitude, that's not too high a price to pay."

At the same time, the president asked for $667 million to meet other security needs, including upgrading security at U.S. military and diplomatic installations around the world, relocating troops in the Persian Gulf and enhancing security at the government's infectious disease laboratories.

Jacob Lew, the acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said the administration believed that the initial $1.09 billion annual cost of all the measures could be met without raising the deficit. He said that determining how to pay for the program would be part of overall negotiations on the budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, and of the annual appropriations process in Congress.

Pub Date: 9/10/96

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